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BFI FILM REVIEW: DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (1991)

BFI FILM REVIEW: DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (1991)

Directed by: Julie Dash

Produced by: Lindsay Law, Julie Dash, Arthur Jafa, Steven Jones

Written by: Julie Dash

Cast: Cora Lee Day, Barbara O, Alva Rogers, Trula Hoosier, Umar Abdurrahamn, Adisa Anderson, Kaycee Moore etc.

Music by: John Barnes

Cinematography: Arthur Jafa

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“I didn’t want to tell a historical drama about African-American women in the same way that I had seen other dramas. I decided to work with a different type of narrative structure…[and] that the typical male-oriented western-narrative structure was not appropriate for this particular film. So I let the story unravel and reveal itself in a way in which an African Gullah would tell the story, because that’s part of our tradition. The story unfolds throughout this day-and-a-half in various vignettes. It unfolds and comes back. It’s a different way of telling a story. It’s totally different, new.” — Julie Dash

If you didn’t know the British Film Institute (or BFI) is the UK’s lead organisation for film, television and the moving image. It is a cultural charity that: presents world cinema for audiences in cinemas, at festivals and online; cares for the BFI National Archive, the most significant film and television archive in the world; is a registered charity that actively seeks out and supports the next generation of filmmakers; organises and runs the annual London Film Festival; and works with the government and industry to make the UK the most creatively exciting place to make film internationally. As my wife and I are members we get sent films on Blu-Ray/DVD as part of the membership. These can be re-released classics or remastered arthouse masterpieces such as Daughters of the Dust (1991).

Daughters of the Dust (1991) was a labour of love for writer and director Julie Dash. Originally inspired, way back in 1975, by her father’s experiences, she strived to create a short, poetic and cinematic account of a Gullah family’s migration from idyllic island life to New York at the turn of the century. Eventually, and after many year’s of development and struggle, PBS’ American Playhouse would grant the low budget for a feature film. The film is set in 1902. It tells the story of three generations of Gullah women in the Peazant family and their varying viewpoints, thoughts and philosophies in regard to the move from Helena Island.


Daughters of the Dust review – the dreamlike film that inspired Beyoncé's  Lemonade | Film | The Guardian

Daughters of the Dust (1991) was made for a reported $800,000, but it looks worth far more in terms of cinematography, costumes and settings. Arthur Jafa’s camera placement and use of the natural light, on the beach and swamp land especially, conjures up some magical imagery. The iconic images of the women on the beaches in their bright white dresses are stunningly memorable. While watching I felt like I was viewing a gallery of moving paintings, such was the exceptional nature of the composition. Again, despite a low budget and use of actors from independent cinema, Julie Dash, gets some incredibly natural and compelling performances from her cast. It’s all the more amazing as most of the cast had to learn the Gullah language employed from scratch.

Thematically the film is very powerful too. Conflict derives from dialectics such as the clashing of elder versus younger people, ancient beliefs versus Christian religion, African heritage versus Neo-American capitalism and nature versus technology. Julie Dash structures these themes and the character’s desires in a non-linear fashion over a period of a long weekend. There are poetic flashbacks and flashforwards too as the imagery is supported by a voiceover from a yet to be born child of parents, Eli and Eula. Ultimately, this film is a very immersive experience. There are no subtitles, so the language can be tricky to understand, but for me that enhanced the desire to feel the narrative. Indeed, the lyrical beauty of Daughters of the Dust (1991), combined with the humming percussion-driven music, stunning landscapes and inventive cinematic language mean you are swept out to sea by the powerful emotions of Julie Dash’s spectacular vision.

Mark: 9 out of 11


A GHOST STORY (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

A GHOST STORY (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

DIRECTOR/WRITER:  DAVID LOWERY

CAST: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

(Contains mild spoilers – nothing you may not already know.)

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I write reviews for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love cinema and TV and music and culture in general and enjoy writing and thinking about the things I have seen and why I liked or disliked them. Secondly, as a writer myself I enjoy considering aspects from a screenwriting perspective and analyses what did or didn’t work for me. Thirdly, I guess from a narcissistic or egotistical perspective there’s a part of you that wants the attention or simply just confirmation that one’s opinions are being read or listened too. Ultimately, it’s a pastime and a bit of fun.

Every now and then a film comes along which is hard to place and it makes you think and you actually have to apply yourself. You can fall into certain traps of structure or at worst formula when writing reviews. But with David Lowery’s majestic A Ghost Story (2017) he has delivered such an original work of cinema art it is difficult to follow one’s established reviewing rules.

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For starters it is difficult to even give you a brief synopsis of the film because it is so simple in its concept that the title itself sums up what the narrative is. It literally is a Ghost’s story!  However, after establishing the accessible drama of the loss of a loved one, the characters move into a whole new level of complexity in regard to the supernatural, temporal, philosophical and metaphysical.

The main cast are Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara and they brilliantly under-play a loving couple who share a property in a nameless place. Their characters are also seemingly nameless (referred to as ‘C’ and ‘M’ in the credits) and their normal lives are then torn apart when he dies in a car accident. In a beautifully haunting scene at the morgue ‘C’ “awakes” as a GHOST IN A SHEET! Yes, his Ghost is shrouded in a sheet with two eye-holes cut out. My feeling about this initially was how would the director make it work without possible derision? But, due to his sheer confidence in the idea and choice of shots, music and pace we are quickly enveloped by ‘C’s pale figure and his drama.

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From then on we see everything from the Ghost’s perspective and it truly is heart-breaking. I mean it takes guts for the filmmaker to cover his leading actor for the rest of the film but it genuinely pays off. My feeling about the sheet idea was that in death we lose our identity via our body, yet our soul lives on in the space where we existed. Our Ghost here is a genuine lost soul unable to move on and he literally haunts his home in a desire to stay with the one he loves. I also enjoyed the spirituality of the piece without once there being a reference to religion. It’s not about dogmatic belief systems but the purity of life and love.

David Lowery has created one of the most original stories of the year and his handling of composition; editing and temporal structure is a masterclass in pure cinema. This film is hypnotic, tragic and one of the best of the year. It echoes the work of Bergman, Kubrik and Tarkovsky. I for one do like my conventional genre films with well-formed characters and clear plot-lines, but this film transcends cinema conventions and delivers one of the most poignant and melancholic experiences of the year. Plus, the score by Daniel Hart really augments the minimalist approach and often dialogue-free sequences. Overall, this is a meditative joy which is both unconventional yet in its unpolluted filmic poetry had me transfixed throughout.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)